Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. (February 11, 1936 – September 6, 2018) was an American actor, director and producer. He first rose to prominence starring in television series such as Gunsmoke (1962–1965), Hawk (1966), and Dan August (1970–1971).
Reynolds in a publicity photo for Dan August (1970)
Burton Leon Reynolds Jr.|
February 11, 1936
Lansing, Michigan, U.S.
September 6, 2018 (aged 82)|
Jupiter, Florida, U.S.
|Occupation||Actor, director, producer|
(m. 1963; div. 1965)
(m. 1988; div. 1993)
|Partner(s)||Sally Field (1977–1980)|
His breakout film role was as Lewis Medlock in Deliverance (1972). Reynolds played the leading role in a number of subsequent box office hits, such as The Longest Yard (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Semi-Tough (1977), Hooper (1978), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), The Cannonball Run (1981) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982).
After a few box office failures, Reynolds returned to television, starring in the sitcom Evening Shade (1990–1994). He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Boogie Nights (1997).
Burton Leon Reynolds Jr. was the son of Harriette Fernette "Fern" (née Miller; 1902–1992) and Burton Milo Reynolds (1906–2002). He had Dutch, English, Scots-Irish, and Scottish ancestry, and also claimed Cherokee and Italian roots through his father.
During his career, he often claimed to have been born in Waycross, Georgia, although he said in 2015 he was actually born in Lansing, Michigan. He was born on February 11, 1936, and in his autobiography stated that Lansing is where his family lived when his father was drafted into the United States Army.
He, his mother, and his sister joined his father at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and lived there for two years. When his father was sent to Europe, the family moved to Lake City, Michigan, where his mother had been raised. In 1946, the family moved to Riviera Beach, Florida. His father eventually became Chief of Police of Riviera Beach, which is adjacent to the north end of West Palm Beach, Florida.
After graduating from Palm Beach High School, he attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and played halfback. While at Florida State, he roomed with college football broadcaster and analyst Lee Corso, and also became a brother of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
He had hoped to be named to All-American teams and have a career in professional football; however, he injured his knee in the first game of his sophomore season, and later that year lost his spleen and injured his other knee in a bad car accident. These injuries hampered his abilities on the field, and after being beaten in coverage for the game-winning touchdown in a 7-0 loss to North Carolina State on October 12, 1957, he decided to give up football.
Ending his college football career, Reynolds thought of becoming a police officer; however, his father suggested he finish college and become a parole officer. To keep up with his studies, he began taking classes at Palm Beach Junior College (PBJC) in neighboring Lake Park.
In his first term at PBJC, he was in an English class taught by Watson B. Duncan III. Duncan pushed him into trying out for a play he was producing, Outward Bound. He cast him in the lead role based on having heard him read Shakespeare in class, leading to his winning the 1956 Florida State Drama Award for his performance. "I read two words and they gave me a lead," he later said.
In his autobiography, he referred to Duncan as his mentor and the most influential person in his life.
The Florida State Drama Award included a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse, a summer stock theatre, in Hyde Park, New York. Reynolds saw the opportunity as an agreeable alternative to more physically demanding summer jobs, but did not yet see acting as a possible career. While working there, Reynolds met Joanne Woodward, who helped him find an agent.
"I don't think I ever actually saw him perform," said Woodward later. "I knew him as this cute, shy, attractive boy. He had the kind of lovely personality that made you want to do something for him."
He was cast in Tea and Sympathy at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. After his Broadway debut in Look, We've Come Through, he received favorable reviews for his performance and went on tour with the cast, driving the bus as well as appearing on stage.
"I was a working actor for two years before I finally took my first real acting class (with Wynn Handman at the Neighborhood Playhouse)," he said. "It was a lot of technique, truth, moment-to-moment, how to listen, improv."
After a botched improvisation in acting class, Reynolds briefly considered returning to Florida, but soon gained a part in a revival of Mister Roberts, in which Charlton Heston played the starring role.
After the play closed, the director, John Forsythe, arranged a film audition with Joshua Logan for Reynolds. The film was Sayonara (1957). Reynolds was told he could not be in the film because he looked too much like Marlon Brando. Logan advised Reynolds to go to Hollywood, although Reynolds did not feel confident enough to do so. (Another source says Reynolds did a screen test after Lew Wasserman saw the effect he had on secretaries in his office but the test was unsuccessful.)
He worked in a variety of jobs, such as waiting tables, washing dishes, driving a delivery truck and as a bouncer at the Roseland Ballroom. Reynolds wrote that, while working as a dockworker, he was offered $150 to jump through a glass window on a live television show.
Early television and Riverboat
Reynolds began acting on television in the late 1950s, guest starring on shows like Flight, M Squad, Schlitz Playhouse, The Lawless Years and Pony Express. He signed a seven-year contract with Universal. "I don't care whether he can act or not," said Wasserman. "Anyone who has this effect on women deserves a break."
Reynolds' first big break came when he was cast alongside Darren McGavin in the lead of the TV series Riverboat (1959–61), playing Ben Frazer. According to a contemporary report Reynolds was considered "a double for Marlon Brando". The show went for two seasons but Reynolds quit after only 20 episodes, claiming he did not get along with McGavin or the executive producer, and that he had "a stupid part".
Reynolds says then he "couldnt get a job. I didn't have a very good reputation. You just don't walk out on a network television series."
Reynolds returned to guest starring on television shows. As he put it, "I played heavies in every series in town" appearing in episodes of Playhouse 90, Johnny Ringo, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Lock Up, The Blue Angels, Michael Shayne, Zane Grey Theater, The Aquanauts and The Brothers Brannagan. "They were depressing years," he later said.
Reynolds made his film debut in the low budget Angel Baby (1961), billed fourth. He followed it with a role in a war film, Armored Command (1961). "It was the one picture that Howard Keel didn't sing on," reminisced Reynolds later. "That was a terrible mistake."
Reynolds continued to guest star on shows such as Naked City, Ripcord, Everglades, Route 66, Perry Mason, and The Twilight Zone ("The Bard"). He later said, "I learned more about my craft in these guest shots than I did standing around and looking virile on Riverboat".
In 1962 Dennis Weaver wanted to leave the cast of Gunsmoke, one of the top rated shows in the country. The producers developed a new character, "halfbreed" blacksmith Quint Asper: Reynolds was cast, beating over 300 other contenders. Reynolds announced he would stay on the show "until it ends. I think it's a terrible mistake for an actor to leave a series in the middle of it".
Reynolds left Gunsmoke in 1965. He later said the show was "the happiest period of my life. I hated to leave that show but I felt I had served my apprenticeship and there wasn't room for two leading men."
Hawk and leading roles in films
Reynolds then made a series of films in quick succession. Shark! (1968), shot in Mexico, was directed by Sam Fuller who removed his name from it after which its release was held up a number of years. Fade-In which he described as "the best thing I've ever done," was not released for a number of years, and the director Judd Taylor took his name off. Impasse (1969), was a war movie shot in the Philippines. He played the title role Sam Whiskey (1969), a comic Western written by William W. Norton which Reynolds later claimed was "way ahead of its time. I was playing light comedy and nobody cared."
In a 1969 interview he expressed interest in playing roles like the John Garfield part in The Postman Always Rings Twice, but no one sent him those sort of roles. "Instead, the producer hands me a script and says 'I know it's not there now kid but I know we can make it work'."
Reynolds had been offered a lead role in MASH (1970), but turned it down after "they told me the other two leads would be Barbra Streisand's husband and that tall, skinny guy who was in The Dirty Dozen." Tom Skerritt played the role and Reynolds instead went into Skullduggery (1970), shot in Jamaica. Reynolds joked that after making "those wonderful forgettable pictures... I suddenly realized I was as hot as Leo Gorcey."
Reynolds starred in two TV films Hunters Are for Killing (1970) and Run, Simon, Run (1970). In Hunters his character was originally a Native American, but Reynolds requested this element be changed, feeling he had played it too many times already and it was not needed for the character.
Dan August and talk shows
Reynolds played the title character in police drama Dan August (1970–71), produced by Quinn Martin. The series was given a full-season order of 26 episodes based on the reputation of Martin and Reynolds but struggled in the ratings against Hawaii 5-0 and was not renewed.
Following the series' cancellation, Reynolds did his first stage play in six years, a production of The Tender Trap at Arlington Park Theatre. He was offered other TV pilots but was reluctant to play a detective again.
Around this time he had become well known as an entertaining talk show guest, starting with an appearance on The Merv Griffin Show. He made jokes at his own expense, calling himself America's most "well-known unknown" who only made the kind of movies "they show in airplanes or prisons or anywhere else the people can't get out." He proved enormously popular and was frequently asked back by Griffin, then Johnny Carson; he even guest hosted. He was so popular as a guest he was offered his own talk show but he wanted to keep on as an actor.
He later said the talk shows "the best thing that ever happened to me. They changed everything drastically overnight. I spent ten years looking virile saying 'Put up your hands'. After the Carson, Griffin, Frost, Dinah's show, suddenly I have a personality."
"I realized that people liked me, that I was enough," said Reynolds. "So if I could transfer that character - the irreverent, self-deprecating side of me, my favorite side of me - onto the screen, I could have a big career.
Deliverance and the centerfold
Reynolds had his breakout role in Deliverance, directed by John Boorman, who cast him off on the basis of a talk show appearance. "It's the first time I haven't had a script with Paul Newman's and Robert Redford's fingerprints all over it," Reynolds joked. "The producers actually came to me first."
"I've waited 15 years to do a really good movie," he said in 1972. "I made so many bad pictures. I was never able to turn anyone down. The greatest curse in Hollywood is to be a well known unknown."
Reynolds also gained notoriety around this time when he began a well-publicized relationship with Dinah Shore and after he posed naked in the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan. Reynolds said he did it for "a kick. I have a strange sense of humor" and because he knew he had Deliverance coming out. He later expressed regret for posing for Cosmopolitan.
Deliverance was a huge commercial and critical success and, along with the talk show appearances, helped establish Reynolds as a star. "The night of the Academy Awards, I counted a half-dozen Burt Reynolds jokes," he later said. "I had become a household name, the most talked-about star at the award show."
He was then in Fuzz (1972), reuniting him with Welch, and made a cameo in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*(*But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972). He also returned to the stage, appearing in The Rainmaker at the Arlington.
He was in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) co-starring Sarah Miles. The film is best remembered for the scandal during filming where Miles' lover committed suicide; it was a minor hit. He was meant to reunite with Boorman in Zardoz but fell ill and was replaced by Sean Connery.
Another career turning moment in Reynolds' career came when he made the light-hearted car chase film written by Norton, White Lightning (1973). Reynolds later called it "the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South... you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy." Car chase films would be Reynolds' most profitable genre. At the end of 1973 Reynolds was voted into the list of the ten most popular box office stars in the US, at number four. He would stay on that list until 1984.
He made a sports comedy with Robert Aldrich, The Longest Yard (1974) which was popular. Aldrich later said "I think that on occasion he's a much better actor than he's given credit for. Not always: sometimes he acts like a caricature of himself."
More popular was another light hearted car chase film, W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), and a tough cop drama with Aldrich, Hustle (1975). He did a cameo for Mel Brooks in Silent Movie (1976).
Reynolds made his directorial debut in 1976 with Gator, the sequel to White Lightning, written by Norton. "I waited 20 years to do it [directing] and I enjoyed it more than anything I've ever done in this business," he said after filming. "And I happen to think it's what I do best."
He was reunited with Bogdanovich for the screwball comedy Nickelodeon (1976), which was a commercial disappointment. Aldrich later commented, "Bogdanovich can get him to do the telephone book! Anybody else has to persuade him to do something. He's fascinated by Bogdanovich. I can't understand it." He turned down the part of Clark Gable in Gable and Lombard.
Smokey and the Bandit and career peak
He followed it with a comedy about football players, Semi-Tough (1977), co-starring Jill Clayburgh and Kris Kristofferson and produced by David Merrick. He then made his second film as director The End (1978), a black comedy, playing a role originally written for Woody Allen.
More popular was a car comedy he made with Needham and Field, Hooper (1978), where he played a stuntman.
"My ability as an actor gets a little better every time," he said around this time. I'm very prolific in the amount of films I make - two-and-a-half or three a year - and when I look at any picture I do now compared to Deliverance, it's miles above what I was doing then. But when you're doing films that are somewhat similar to each other, as I've been doing, people take it for granted."
He also said "I'd rather direct than act. I'd rather do that than anything. It's the second-best sensation I've ever had." He added that David Merrick had offered to produce two films Reynolds would direct without having to act in them.
Reynolds tried a change of pace with Starting Over (1979), a romantic comedy co-starring Clayburgh and Candice Bergen; it was co-written and produced by James L. Brooks. He played a jewel thief in Rough Cut (1980) produced by Merrick, who fired and then rehired director Don Siegel during filming.
Reynolds had two huge hits with car films directed by Needham, Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) and The Cannonball Run (1981). He did another romantic comedy, Paternity (1981) then directed himself in a tough action film, Sharky's Machine (1981).
Reynolds wanted to try a musical again and so agreed to do The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). It was a hit, as was Best Friends (1982) with Goldie Hawn. In 1982, Reynolds was voted the most popular star in the US for the fifth year in a row.
Around this time he reflected:
The only thing I really enjoy is this business, and I think my audience knows that. I've never been able to figure out exactly who that audience is. I know there have been a few pictures even my mother didn't go see, but there's always been an audience for them. I guess it is because they always know that I give it 100 percent, and good or bad, there's going to be quite a lot of me in that picture. That's what they're looking for. I don't have any pretensions about wanting to be Hamlet. I would just like to be the best Burt Reynolds around.
James L. Brooks offered Reynolds the role of astronaut Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment (1983) but he turned it down to do Stroker Ace (1983), another car chase comedy directed by Needham. The Endearment role went to Jack Nicholson, who went on to win an Academy Award. Reynolds said he made this decision because "I felt I owed Hal more than I owed Jim" but Stroker Ace flopped. Reynolds felt this was a turning point in his career from which he never recovered. "That's where I lost them," he says of his fans.
Getting to the top has turned out to be a hell of a lot more fun than staying there. I've got Tom Selleck crawling up my back. I'm in my late 40s. I realize I have four or five more years where I can play certain kinds of parts and get away with it. That's why I'm leaning more and more toward directing and producing. I don't want to be stumbling around town doing Gabby Hayes parts a few years from now. I'd like to pick and choose and maybe go work for a perfume factory like Mr. Cary Grant, and look wonderful with everybody saying, 'Gee, I wish he hadn't retired.
Cannonball Run II (1984), directed by Needham, brought in some money but only half of the original. City Heat (1984), which teamed Reynolds and Eastwood was mildly popular but considered a major box office disappointment. He was injured during filming, causing him to lose weight and for rumors to start that he had AIDS.
Reynolds returned to directing with Stick (1985) from an Elmore Leonard novel but it was a critical and commercial failure. So too were three other action films he made: Heat (1986), based on a William Goldman novel, Malone (1987), and Rent-a-Cop (1987) with Liza Minnelli. He later said he did Heat and Malone "because there were so many rumors about me [about AIDS]. I had to get out and be seen."
Reynolds tried a screwball comedy, Switching Channels (1989), but it was a box office disappointment. Even more poorly received was Physical Evidence (1989), directed by Michael Crichton. Reynolds received excellent reviews for Breaking In (1989) but the commercial reception was poor.
"When I was doing very well," he said at the time, "I wasn't conscious I was doing very well, but I became very conscious when I wasn't doing very well. The atmosphere changed."
Return to TV: BL Stryker and Evening Shade
Reynolds then starred in a sitcom, Evening Shade (1990–94) as Woodward "Wood" Newton. The program was a considerable success and ran for four seasons and 98 episodes. This role earned him an Emmy Award.
During the series' run, Reynolds also made a cameo in The Player (1992). He starred in a film aimed at children, Cop & 1/2 (1993), and two TV movies, Wind in the Wire (1993) and The Man from Left Field (1993); he also directed the latter, which co-starred Reba McEntire.
When Evening Shade ended, Reynolds played the lead in a horror film, The Maddening (1995). However, he gradually moved into being more of a character actor - he had key support roles in Citizen Ruth (1996), an early work from Alexander Payne, and Striptease (1996) with Demi Moore. He had to audition for the latter. The film's producer later said, "To be honest, we were not enthusiastic at first. There was the hair and his reputation, but we were curious." Reynolds got the role and earned some strong reviews.
Reynolds was a supporting actor in Frankenstein and Me (1996), Mad Dog Time (1996), The Cherokee Kid (1996), Meet Wally Sparks (1997) with Rodney Dangerfield, and Bean (1997) with Rowan Atkinson. He had the lead in Raven (1996), a straight-to-DVD action film. Around this time he claimed he was broke, having gone through $13 million.
In 1996, Reynolds' agent said "Regarding Burt, there's a split between the executives in town who are under 40 and those who are over 40. The younger executives are more open to Burt because they grew up loving Deliverance. But the older executives remember how crazy he was, and they are less receptive."
Boogie Nights and career revival
Reynolds appeared as an adult film director in the hit film Boogie Nights (1997), which was considered a comeback role for him; he received 12 acting awards and 3 nominations for the role, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Nevertheless, Reynolds refused to appear in Boogie Nights writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's subsequent film, Magnolia (1999), saying he hated working on the film and hated Anderson.
Reynolds returned to directing with Hard Time (1998) an action TV film starring himself. It led to two sequels, which he did not direct, Hard Time: The Premonition (1999) and Hard Time: Hostage Hotel (1999) (directed by Hal Needham).
He starred in the straight to video The Hunter's Moon (1999), Stringer (1999), and Waterproof (2000).
Reynolds was top billed in Snapshots (2002) with Julie Christie, Time of the Wolf (2002), and Hard Ground (2003), and supported in Johnson County War (2002) with Tom Berenger, and Miss Lettie and Me (2003) with Mary Tyler Moore.
Reynolds was in a series of supporting roles that referred to earlier performances: Without a Paddle (2004), a riff on his role in Deliverance, The Longest Yard (2005), a remake of his 1974 hit with Adam Sandler playing Reynolds' old role; and The Dukes of Hazzard (2005) as Boss Hogg in a nod to his performances in 1970s car chase films.
Reynolds continued to play lead roles in films such as Cloud 9 (2006), Forget About It (2006), Deal (2008), and A Bunch of Amateurs (2008), and supporting parts like End Game (2006), Grilled (2006), Broken Bridges (2006), In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007), Not Another Not Another Movie (2011), and Reel Love (2011).
Reynolds was top billed in Category 5 (2014) and Elbow Grease (2016) and could be seen in Pocket Listing (2014), and Hollow Creek (2015). He returned to regular role on TV in Hitting the Breaks (2016) but it only ran for ten episodes. He was in Apple of My Eye (2016).
The Last Movie Star and final films
His final performances include roles in the films Miami Love Affair (2017), Henri (2017), Shadow Fighter (2018) and Defining Moments (2018).
In May 2018, he joined the cast for Quentin Tarantino's film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as George Spahn (an eighty year old blind man who rented out his ranch to Charles Manson), but he died before shooting his scenes, and was later replaced by Bruce Dern.
Reynolds co-authored the 1997 children's book Barkley Unleashed: A Pirate's Tail, a "whimsical tale [that] illustrates the importance of perseverance, the wonders of friendship and the power of imagination".
Despite his lucrative career, in 1996 he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, due in part to an extravagant lifestyle, a divorce from Loni Anderson and failed investments in some Florida restaurant chains. Reynolds emerged from bankruptcy two years later.
Reynolds was married to English actress Judy Carne from 1963 to 1965. He and American singer-actress Dinah Shore were in a relationship in the early 1970s for about five years. He had a relationship from 1977 to 1982 with American actress Sally Field, during which time they appeared together in four films. Reynolds was married to American actress Loni Anderson from 1988 to 1993. They adopted a son, Quinton. He and Anderson separated after he fell in love with a cocktail waitress, with whom he later traded lawsuits which were settled out of court.
Reynolds' close friends included Johnny Carson, James Hampton, Dom DeLuise, Jerry Reed, Charles Nelson Reilly, Tammy Wynette, Lucie Arnaz, Adrienne Barbeau, Tawny Little, Dinah Shore, Clint Eastwood and Chris Evert.
In the late 1970s, Reynolds opened Burt's Place, a nightclub restaurant in the Omni International Hotel in the Hotel District of Downtown Atlanta, and briefly operated a second version at Lenox Square. He was a lifelong fan of American football, a result of his collegiate career, and was a minority owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL from 1982 to 1986. The team's name was inspired by the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy and Skoal Bandit, a primary sponsor for the team as a result of also sponsoring Reynolds' motor racing team.
Reynolds co-owned a NASCAR Winston Cup team, Mach 1 Racing, with Hal Needham, which ran the #33 "Skoal Bandit" car with driver Harry Gant. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from Florida State University in 1981 and later endorsed the construction of a new performing arts facility in Sarasota, Florida.
He also owned a private "dinner theater" in Jupiter, Florida, with a focus on training young performers looking to enter show business. The theater was later renamed to the Burt Reynolds Jupiter Theater and closed in 1997 after Reynolds declared bankruptcy.
In 1984, he opened a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, "Burt & Jacks", which he co-owned with Jack Jackson.
While filming City Heat, Reynolds was struck in the face with a metal chair and had temporomandibular joint dysfunction. He lost thirty pounds from not eating. The painkillers he was prescribed led to addiction, which lasted several years. He underwent back surgery in 2009 and a quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery in February 2010.
On August 16, 2011, Merrill Lynch Credit Corporation filed foreclosure papers, claiming Reynolds owed US$1.2 million on his home in Hobe Sound, Florida. He owned the Burt Reynolds Ranch, where scenes for Smokey and the Bandit were filmed and which once had a petting zoo, until its sale during bankruptcy. In April 2014, the 153-acre (62 ha) rural property was rezoned for residential use and the Palm Beach County school system was empowered to sell it which they did to the residential developer K. Hovnanian Homes. Reynolds also once purchased a mansion on a tract of land in Loganville, Georgia, while married to Loni Anderson.
Reynolds died from a heart attack at the Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Florida, on September 6, 2018, at the age of 82. His ex-wife Loni Anderson issued a statement saying that she and their son Quinton would miss him and "his great laugh". On September 20, 2018, the two held a private memorial service for Reynolds at a funeral home in North Palm Beach, Florida. Those in attendance included Sally Field, FSU coach Bobby Bowden, friend Lee Corso, and quarterback Doug Flutie.
On the day of Reynolds' death, Antenna TV, which airs The Tonight Show nightly, aired an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from February 11, 1982, featuring an interview and a This Is Your Life-style skit with Reynolds. The local media in Atlanta and elsewhere in the state noted on their television news programs that evening that he was the first to make major films in Georgia, all of which were successful, which helped make the state one of the top filming locations in the country. Reynolds' body was cremated at the Gold Coast Crematory in Florida.
|US Country||US||CAN Country|
|1980||"Let's Do Something Cheap and Superficial"||51||88||33||Smokey and the Bandit II Soundtrack||Richard Levinson|
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